Intended for healthcare professionals


Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 09 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:627

Psychiatrist and pioneer of the death-and-dying movement

In her groundbreaking bestseller On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross overturned how physicians treat dying patients. When the book was published in 1969, death was a taboo subject and discussing it was considered morbid. Patients died alone in hospitals; physicians ignored them; and adequate pain medication was underused. The book brought these practices to the fore—and pressed for more humane treatment of the dying.

The book rocked the medical profession—and at the same time also resulted in a public outcry for compassionate care of the dying. On Death and Dying is a classic work and is still in print around the world today.

Kübler-Ross's work stemmed from the realisation that in her native Switzerland, death, like birth, was considered a normal part of the life cycle. In Switzerland people died at home surrounded by family and friends—and they were comfortable until the end of their lives. In contrast in the United States and other countries that placed a premium on high tech medicine, patients lay by the wayside. It was a practice she deplored.

A …

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